Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/4/2012 (3406 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Manitoba Hydro’s interim two per cent rate increase, which kicked in on Sunday, is essentially a tax grab, says Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer.
"My concern is the provincial government has raided the reserves over the past number of years, taking at least $25 million out and had those reserves still been there, there would be no need for a rate increase to weather the economic storm," Helwer said.
Helwer, the Tory Hydro critic, said the NDP government had pledged during the 2011 election not to raise taxes.
"This is essentially a tax increase," Helwer said.
Dave Chomiak, the minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, defended the increase while slamming the attack presented by Helwer.
"The Tories have wanted us to go towards market rates for years and that would have increased Hydro’s rates dramatically," Chomiak said. "Right now, we have the lowest Hydro rates in the country. Some places in Canada are double our rates. The only place that’s even close to us is Quebec. If they didn’t privatize it, the Tories want to go to market rates."
Helwer added there was $23 million collected from Manitoba Hydro ratepayers that was "overcharged" when Hydro had expected to need money from a previous increase.
"They had a conditional rate increase, so they were charging that rate, then the PUB rolled it back 1.5 per cent," Helwer said. "That’s how they get the $23 million."
Chomiak said Helwer’s information was "wrong" and that the Public Utilities Board had asked Hydro to "set aside $23 million from a previous rate increase that could be returned to ratepayers."
"Hydro has appealed that," Chomiak said. "The rate increases are below that of any other jurisdiction in Canada in the last five or six years."
Chomiak said Hydro officials have submitted information to the Public Utilities Board in an attempt to resolve a dispute and answer questions about why Hydro needs the money. The Public Utilities Board, in their own press release, stated they denied a Hydro request to appropriate the $23 million into a deferral account.
"We haven’t been told if that money is going to be repaid to ratepayers or if the ratepayers will be paid interest on that amount," Helwer said. "We know Hydro asked the (Public Utilities Board) if they could move it into general revenue and that was denied," Helwer said. "That money is not rightfully (Hydro’s) — it belongs to the ratepayers. One would be suspicious. If this were before the election, would that money be paid out immediately?
Helwer said the Public Utilities Board should have followed the example they set with Manitoba Public Insurance, where rebates were mandated after surplus funds had been held back from ratepayers for years.
"That money should never have been charged in the first place," Helwer said.
Manitoba Hydro revenues have decreased this winter because the balmy temperatures reduced the need for natural gas and electricity. Export revenues from the United States also decreased for similar reasons. Lower water volumes running through the hydro dams this year also reduced revenue projections.
Chomiak said the interim rate increase will be reviewed through the regular channels and that people will have a chance to ask questions through the Public Utilities Board review process.